Advanced Writing Requirement (Approved by Faculty Council May 14, 2019)

Purpose and Pathways
The ability to write clearly to communicate information and persuade decision makers is a foundational skill for any lawyer.  Consistent with ABA Accreditation requirements, the Law School requires students to complete two writing experiences under the supervision of faculty, one in the first year and another after the first year. We encourage students to take advantage of multiple additional opportunities to undertake legal writing, but completion of these two, distinct experiences are minimum requirements for graduation.

The upper class writing assignment, known as the “Advanced Writing Requirement,” requires certification by a supervising faculty member that the student has fulfilled this mandate and is known in our lexicon as “cert” or “certing.”  This enterprise is intended to help students develop their ability to: organize a narrative so that it is easy for the reader to digest; sort important from minor or irrelevant facts; research, analyze, and, if necessary, critique applicable law or other relevant research; and advocate for a remedy to a legal dispute, a legal debate, or the resolution of a policy dispute in a legal context.  The Law School faculty is committed to supervising such documents carefully, providing close supervision and constructive feedback on the student’s research, analysis, and writing on a one-on-one basis.

Several pathways to achieve certification are available throughout the curriculum and students should have no trouble finding one that gives them a sound and relevant educational experience.  Most students satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement by taking a seminar and writing a seminar paper.  As explained further below, others may pursue Independent Written Work on a topic that interests them for one or two credits under the supervision of a full-time faculty member.   

With two provisos, students may also satisfy the requirement by completing a “practice-based” document such as a brief, an opinion letter to a client, a letter to opposing counsel, an analysis of a client’s negotiating position or options to settle a legal dispute, or a bench memorandum or similar legal analysis.  First, the ABA prohibits “double dipping,” which it defines as taking one course to satisfy two requirements for graduation.  Students taking a clinical or other offering to satisfy the Law School’s experiential learning requirement cannot use the same course to satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement.  However, Clinic II students or students who satisfy the ABA’s experiential requirement through another course may cert in that context under the supervision of a clinical professor.  Second, students may also cert a comment or note written for one of the Law School’s legal journals or a brief or memorandum written for a competition sponsored by the Law School if they enroll for an Independent Writing credit under the supervision of a full-time faculty member who works with them to improve the document as necessary to satisfy the criteria set forth below.

The Writing Center has exemplars of documents that have satisfied the Advanced Writing Requirement on file to enhance student and faculty understanding of the criteria set forth in this statement.

Like all other requirements that students must fulfill before graduation, responsibility for certing resides with the individual student.

ABA Accreditation Requirement
The American Bar Association (ABA) requires law schools to “offer a curriculum that requires each student to satisfactorily complete at least…one writing experience in the first year and at least one additional writing experience after the first year, both of which are faculty supervised.” Standard 303. Accompanying Interpretation 303-2 states that “[f]actors to be considered in evaluating the rigor of a writing experience include the number and nature of writing projects assigned to students, the form and extent of individualized assessment of a student’s written products, and the number of drafts that a student must produce for any writing experience.”

Interpretation 303-1 also has relevant language stating that law schools “may not permit a student to use a course to satisfy more than one requirement under this Standard. For example, a course that includes a writing experience used to satisfy the upper-class writing requirement ... cannot be counted as one of the experiential courses required in Standard 303(a)(3).” 

Criteria for a Qualifying Document
To satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement, a qualifying document must be written or improved under the supervision of a Law School faculty member.  It should: (1) analyze law, policy, and facts pertinent to a complex law-related or public policy problem; (2) incorporate significant, relevant research; (3) analyze the most important, conflicting views regarding the problem; (4) argue how the identified issues should be resolved; and (5) be of substantial quality. The student must demonstrate an awareness of the pertinent primary and secondary authority (e.g., case law, statutes, regulations, policy analysis, scientific or technical information, empirical studies, etc.); and engage in original, thoughtful analysis beyond merely reporting, compiling, or describing the work of other authors.  

Supervising faculty retain discretion to determine the length and quality of documents that they deem to satisfy the requirement
In general, documents shorter than 6,500 words (including citations, footnotes or endnotes), or approximately 24-25 pages double-spaced, may not satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement unless supervising faculty determine that an exception may be made. 

  • Day students are strongly encouraged to complete the Advanced Writing Requirement during the 2L year. Evening students are strongly encouraged to complete the requirement during their 3L year.
  • The dean’s office will contact students who have not completed the requirement within the above time frame to ensure that students in this situation have a reasonable plan in place for satisfaction of the requirement.
  • The Law School expects that students will complete the Advanced Writing Requirement in one semester and, except in extraordinary circumstances, prior to the end of the next-to-last semester before graduation.

Extensions for completion of the requirement beyond one semester will only be granted in exigent circumstances 
“Exigent circumstances” are events that substantially impair the student’s ability to complete his or her law school work and are outside the student’s control, such as an illness or family emergency or a disability for which accommodations have been approved. Students should seek the approval of the dean’s office if such a circumstance means they cannot complete the work they hope to use to satisfy the Advanced Writing within one semester.

Notice from the Registrar
The registrar will make his best efforts to inform students who do not meet this schedule and their supervising faculty members of that fact no later than the end of the second week of classes of the semester when this recommended deadline expires.

Educational Options
Documents that satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement may be written in several educational contexts, including:

Approved Seminars
Seminars must be approved for satisfaction of the Advanced Writing Requirement.  With the approval of the instructors, the Advanced Writing Requirement may also be satisfied by writing the equivalent of a seminar paper in a course offered for at least two credits.  In either case, instructors must agree in advance that the written work will have the characteristics noted above. Students will receive a grade at the end of the seminar or course that reflects the paper as submitted in accordance with course deadlines.

Seminars Taught by Adjunct Faculty
Seminars offered by adjunct faculty may provide students the opportunity to satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement at the option of the adjunct faculty member, who should consult with the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs before making that decision. Adjunct faculty may limit the number of students eligible to fulfill the requirement at their discretion. New adjunct faculty members who elect to allow students to satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement must receive onsite training regarding the goals, process, and methodology for providing appropriate criticism to students before the course commences. Full-time faculty and existing adjuncts are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the training and resources developed by the curriculum committee that explain the cert requirement in greater depth and are posted on the law school web site.

Practice-based Documents
Documents prepared in a real or simulated practice-based setting that is part of a course or other offering sponsored by the Law School may satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement if they satisfy the criteria listed above and were primarily drafted by the student seeking to satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement.  Examples include a substantial brief or memoranda of law, policy analysis, or white paper, or other significant practice-based writing that thoroughly analyzes a legal or policy problem. Legal instruments such as a draft contract, settlement agreement, application for a government permit or license, or primarily descriptive practice documents that do not involve substantial legal research and analysis do not satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement.  Written work completed by a student enrolled in an offering that can be used to satisfy the experiential requirement may satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement provided that the student satisfies the six-credit experiential learning requirement by taking another offering.     

Independent Written Work
Students may enroll for one or more credits to undertake independent written work that is prescriptive and is supervised by a full-time faculty member.  “Prescriptive” means that the student considers a problem, musters available legal precedent and other information, including scientific and technical documents, and proposes solutions that would solve or ameliorate the problem.  Students wishing to satisfy the requirement through Independent Written Work must submit a form to the registrar when they register for the Independent Writing credits.  The form must be signed by the faculty member who has agreed to supervise the project.  Faculty members are encouraged, at a minimum, to review an outline of the document, review and provide verbal and written comments on the first draft of the document, and review and provide written and verbal comments on subsequent drafts until the document satisfies the criteria stated in this policy. The option of satisfying the Advanced Writing Requirement through Independent Written Work is not available to students in the last semester of law school.

Law Journal Notes and Comments and Practice-based Documents Written for Law School Competitions or Externships.  
Notes or comments prepared for law journals, Moot Court briefs, or other substantial advocacy documents prepared in connection with a law school course may satisfy the Advanced Writing Requirement provided that they are not confidential or are redacted to avoid any breach of confidentiality and are primarily the work of the student seeking to satisfy the requirement. To qualify, students must enroll in an Independent Written Work credit under the supervision of a full-time faculty member to ensure that the document satisfies the criteria listed above.